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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Samuel Brohl Gives up the Play
By Victor Cherbuliez (1829–1899)
 
From ‘Samuel Brohl and Company’

THE GATE opened and admitted Samuel Brohl, who had a smile on his lips. His first words were—“And your umbrella! You have forgotten it?”  1
  Mademoiselle de Moriaz replied, “Do you not see that there is no sunshine?” And she remained leaning against the apple-tree.  2
  He uplifted his hand to show her the blue sky; he let it fall again. He looked at Antoinette, and he was afraid. He guessed immediately that she knew all. At once he grew audacious.  3
  “I spent a dull day yesterday,” said he. “Madame de Lorcy invited me to dine with a crazy woman; but the night made up for it. I saw Engadine in my dreams—the firs, the Alpine pines, the emerald lakes, and a red hood.”  4
  “I too dreamed last night. I dreamed that the bracelet you gave me belonged to the crazy woman of whom you speak, and that she had her name engraved on it.”  5
  She threw him the bracelet; he picked it up, examined it, turned and re-turned it in his trembling fingers. She grew impatient. “Look at the place that has been forced open. Don’t you know how to read?”  6
  He read, and became stupefied. Who would have believed that this trinket that he had found among his father’s old traps had come to him from Princess Gulof; that it was the price she had paid for Samuel Brohl’s ignominy and shame? Samuel was a fatalist; he felt that his star had set, that Fate had conspired to ruin his hopes, that he was found guilty and condemned. His heart grew heavy within him.  7
  “Can you tell me what I ought to think of a certain Samuel Brohl?” she asked.  8
  That name, pronounced by her, fell on him like a mass of lead; he never would have believed that there could be so much weight in a human word. He trembled under the blow; then he struck his brow with his clinched hand and replied:—  9
  “Samuel Brohl is a man as worthy of your pity as he is of mine. If you knew all that he has suffered, all that he has dared, you could not help deeply pitying and admiring him. Listen to me: Samuel Brohl is an unfortunate man—”  10
  “Or a wretch!” she interrupted in a terrible voice. She was seized by a fit of nervous laughter; she cried out, “Madame Brohl! I will not be called Madame Brohl. Ah! that poor Countess Larinski!”  11
  He had a spasm of rage that would have terrified her had she conjectured what agitated him. He raised his head, crossed his arms on his breast, and said with a bitter smile, “It was not the man that you loved, it was the count.”  12
  She replied, “The man whom I loved never lied.”  13
  “Yes, I lied,” he cried, gasping for breath. “I drank that cup of shame without remorse or disgust. I lied because I loved you madly. I lied because you were dearer to me than my honor. I lied because I despaired of touching your heart, and any road seemed good that led to you. Why did I meet you? why could I not see you without recognizing in you the dream of my whole life? Happiness had passed me by, it was about to take flight; I caught it in a trap—I lied. Who would not lie, to be loved by you?”  14
  Samuel Brohl had never looked so handsome. Despair and passion kindled a sombre flame in his eyes; he had the sinister charm of a fiery Satan. He fixed on Antoinette a fascinating glance which said, “What matter my name, my lies, and the rest? My face is not a mask, and I am the man who pleased you.” He had not the least suspicion of the astonishing facility with which Antoinette had taken back the heart that she had given away so easily; he did not suspect what miracles can be wrought by contempt. In the Middle Ages people believed in golems, figures in clay of an entrancing beauty, which had all the appearance of life. Under a lock of hair was written, in Hebrew characters, on their brow, the word “Truth.” If they chanced to lie, the word was obliterated; they lost all their charm; the clay was no longer anything but clay.  15
  Mademoiselle Moriaz divined Samuel Brohl’s thought; she exclaimed, “The man I loved was he whose history you related to me.”  16
  He would have liked to kill her, so that she should never belong to another. Behind Antoinette, not twenty steps distant, he descried the curb of a well, and grew dizzy at the sight. He discovered with despair that he was not made of the stuff for crime. He dropped down on his knees in the grass and cried, “If you will not pardon me, nothing remains for me but to die!” She stood motionless and impassive. She repeated between her teeth Camille Langis’s phrase: “I am waiting until this great comedian has finished playing his piece.”  17
  He rose and started to run toward the well. She was in front of him and barred the passage, but at the same moment she felt two hands clasp her waist, and the breath of two lips which sought her lips and which murmured, “You love me still, since you do not want me to die.”  18
  She struggled with violence and horror; she succeeded by a frantic effort in disengaging herself from his grasp. She fled toward the house. Samuel Brohl rushed after her in mad pursuit; he was just reaching her, when he suddenly stopped. He had caught sight of M. Langis, hurrying from out a thicket, where he had been hidden. Growing uneasy, he had approached the orchard through a path concealed by the heavy foliage. Antoinette, out of breath, ran to him, gasping, “Camille, save me from this man!” and she threw herself into his arms, which closed about her with delight. He felt her sink; she would have fallen had he not supported her.  19
  At the same instant a menacing voice saluted him with the words, “Monsieur, we will meet again!”  20
  “To-day, if you will,” he replied.  21
  Antoinette’s wild excitement had given place to insensibility; she neither saw nor heard; her limbs no longer sustained her. Camille had great difficulty in bringing her to the house; she could not ascend the steps of the terrace; he was obliged to carry her. Mademoiselle Moiseney saw him, and filled the air with her cries. She ran forward, she lavished her best care on her queen. All the time she was busy in bringing her to her senses she was asking Camille for explanations, to which she did not pay the least attention; she interrupted him at every word to exclaim:—“This has been designed, and you are at the bottom of the plot. I have suspected you—you owe Antoinette a grudge. Your wounded vanity has never recovered from her refusal, and you are determined to be revenged. Perhaps you flatter yourself that she will end by loving you. She does not love you, and she never will love you. Who are you, to dare compare yourself with Count Larinski?… Be silent!… Do I believe in Samuel Brohl? I do not know Samuel Brohl. I venture my head that there is no such person as Samuel Brohl.”  22
  “Not much of a venture, mademoiselle,” replied M. Moriaz, who had arrived in the mean time.  23
  Antoinette remained during an hour in a state of mute languor; then a violent fever took possession of her. When the physician who had been sent for arrived, M. Langis accompanied him into the chamber of the sick girl. She was delirious: seated upright, she kept continually passing her hand over her brow; she sought to efface the taint of a kiss she had received one moonlight night, and the impression in her hair of the flapping of a bat’s wings that had caught in her hood. These two things were confounded in her memory. From time to time she said, “Where is my portrait? Give me my portrait.”  24
  It was about ten o’clock when M. Langis called on Samuel Brohl, who was not astonished to see him appear; he had hoped he would come. Samuel had regained self-possession. He was calm and dignified. However, the tempest through which he had gone had left on his features some vestige of its passage. His lips quivered, and his beautiful chestnut locks curled like serpents about his temples and gave his head a Medusa-like appearance.  25
  He said to Camille, “Where and when? Our seconds will undertake the arrangement of the rest.”  26
  “You mistake, monsieur, the motive of my visit,” replied M. Langis. “I am grieved to destroy your illusions, but I did not come to arrange a meeting with you.”  27
  “Do you refuse to give me satisfaction?”  28
  “What satisfaction do I owe you?”  29
  “You insulted me.”  30
  “When?”  31
  “And you said, ‘The day, the place, the weapons. I leave all to your choice.’”  32
  M. Langis could not refrain from smiling. “Ah! you at last acknowledge that your fainting fit was comedy?” he rejoined.  33
  “Acknowledge on your part,” replied Samuel, “that you insult persons when you believe that they are not in a state to hear you. Your courage likes to take the safe side.”  34
  “Be reasonable,” replied Camille. “I placed myself at Count Larinski’s disposal: you cannot require me to fight with a Samuel Brohl!”  35
  Samuel sprang to his feet; with fierce bearing and head erect he advanced to the young man, who awaited him unflinchingly, and whose resolute manner awed him. He cast upon him a sinister look, turned and reseated himself, bit his lips until the blood came; then said in a placid voice:—  36
  “Will you do me the favor of telling me, monsieur, to what I owe the honor of this visit?”  37
  “I came to demand of you a portrait that Mademoiselle Moriaz is desirous of having returned.”  38
  “If I refuse to give it up, you will doubtless appeal to my delicacy?”  39
  “Do you doubt it?” ironically replied Camille.  40
  “That proves, monsieur, that you still believe in Count Larinski; that it is to him you speak at this moment.”  41
  “You deceive yourself. I came to see Samuel Brohl, who is a business man, and it is a commercial transaction that I intend to hold with him.” And drawing from his pocket a portemonnaie, he added, “You see I do not come empty-handed.”  42
  Samuel settled himself in his arm-chair. Half closing his eyes, he watched M. Langis through his eye-lashes. A change passed over his features: his nose became more crooked, and his chin more pointed; he no longer resembled a lion,—he was a fox. His lips wore the sugared smile of a usurer, one who lays snares for the sons of wealthy families, and who scents out every favorable case. If at this moment Jeremiah Brohl had seen him from the other world, he would have recognized his own flesh and blood.  43
  He said at last to Camille, “You are a man of understanding, monsieur; I am ready to listen to you.”  44
  “I am very glad of it, and to speak frankly, I had no doubts about it. I knew you to be very intelligent, very much disposed to make the best of an unpleasant conjuncture.”  45
  “Ah! spare my modesty. I thank you for your excellent opinion of me; I should warn you that I am accused of being greedy after gain. You will leave some of the feathers from your wings between my fingers.”  46
  For a reply M. Langis significantly patted the portemonnaie which he held in his hand, and which was literally stuffed with bank-notes. Immediately Samuel took from a locked drawer a casket, and proceeded to open it.  47
  “This is a very precious gem,” he said. “The medallion is gold, and the work on the miniature is exquisite. It is a masterpiece—the color equals the design. The mouth is marvelously rendered. Mengs or Liotard could not have done better. At what do you value this work of art?”  48
  “You are more of a connoisseur than I. I will leave it to your own valuation.”  49
  “I will let you have the trinket for five thousand francs; it is almost nothing.”  50
  Camille began to draw out the five thousand francs from his portemonnaie. “How prompt you are!” remarked Samuel. “The portrait has not only a value as a work of art; I am sure you attach a sentimental value to it, for I suspect you of being over head and ears in love with the original.”  51
  “I find you too greedy,” replied Camille, casting on him a crushing glance.  52
  “Do not be angry. I am accustomed to exercise methodical precision in business affairs. My father always sold at a fixed price, and I too never lower my charges. You will readily understand that what is worth five thousand francs to a friend is worth double to a lover. The gem is worth ten thousand francs. You can take it or leave it.”  53
  “I will take it,” replied M. Langis.  54
  “Since we agree,” continued Samuel, “I possess still other articles which might suit you.”  55
  “Why, do you think of selling me your clothing?”  56
  “Let us come to an understanding. I have other articles of the same lot.”  57
  And he brought from a closet the red hood, which he spread out on the table.  58
  “Here is an article of clothing—to use your own words—that may be of interest to you. Its color is beautiful; if you saw it in the sunshine, it would dazzle you. I grant that the stuff is common—it is very ordinary cashmere—but if you deign to examine it closely, you will be struck by the peculiar perfume that it exhales. The Italians call it ‘l’odor femminino.’”  59
  “And what is your rate of charge for the ‘odor femminino’?”  60
  “I will be moderate. I will let you have this article and its perfume for five thousand francs. It is actually giving it away.”  61
  “Assuredly. We will say ten and five—that makes fifteen thousand.”  62
  “One moment. You can pay for all together. I have other things to offer you.—One would say that the floor burned your feet, and that you could not endure being in this room.”  63
  “I allow that I long to leave this—what shall I say?—this shop, lair, or den.”  64
  “You are young, monsieur: it never does to hurry; haste causes us acts of forgetfulness which we afterward regret. You would be very sorry not to take away with you these two scraps of paper.”  65
  At these words he drew from his note-book two letters, which he unfolded.  66
  “Is there much more?” demanded Camille. “I fear that I shall become short of funds, and be obliged to go back for more.”  67
  “Ah, these two letters! I will not part with them for a trifle; the second especially. It is only twelve lines in length; but what pretty English handwriting! Only see! and the style is loving and tender. I will add that it is signed. Ah, monsieur, Mademoiselle Moriaz will be charmed to see these scrawls again. Under what obligations will she be to you! You will make the most of it; you will tell her that you wrested them from me, your dagger at my throat—that you terrified me. With what a gracious smile she will reward your heroism! According to my opinion that smile is as well worth ten thousand francs as the medallion—the two gems are of equal value.”  68
  “If you want more, it makes no difference.”  69
  “No, monsieur; I have told you I have only one price.”  70
  “At this rate, it is twenty-five thousand francs that I owe you. You have nothing more to sell me?”  71
  “Alas! that is all.”  72
  “Will you swear it?”  73
  “What, monsieur! you admit then that Samuel Brohl has a word of honor—that when he has sworn he can be believed?”  74
  “You are right; I am still very young.”  75
  “That is all, then, I swear to you,” affirmed Samuel, sighing. “My shop is poorly stocked; I had commenced laying in a supply, but an unfortunate accident deranged my little business.”  76
  “Bah! be consoled,” replied M. Langis; “you will find another opportunity: a genius of such lofty flights as yours is never at a loss. You have been unfortunate; some day Fortune will compensate you for the wrongs she has done you, and the world will accord justice to your fine talents.”  77
  Speaking thus, he laid on the table twenty-five notes of a thousand francs each. He counted them; Samuel counted them after him, and at once delivered to him the medallion, the hood, and the two letters.  78
  Camille rose to leave. “Monsieur Brohl,” he said, “from the first day I saw you, I formed the highest opinion of your character. The reality surpasses my expectations. I am charmed to have made your acquaintance, and I venture to hope that you are not sorry to have made mine. However, I shall not say au revoir.”  79
  “Who knows?” replied Samuel, suddenly changing his countenance and attitude. And he added, “If you are fond of being astonished, monsieur, will you remain still another instant in this den?”  80
  He rolled and twisted the twenty-five one-thousand-franc notes into lamp-lighters; then with a grand gesture, à la Poniatowski, he approached the candle, held them in the flame until they blazed, and then threw them on the hearth, where they were soon consumed.  81
  Turning toward M. Langis, he cried, “Will you now do me the honor of fighting with me?”  82
  “After such a noble act as that, I can refuse you nothing,” returned Camille. “I will do you that signal honor.”  83
  “Just what I desire,” replied Samuel. “I am the offended; I have the choice of arms.” And in showing M. Langis out, he said, “I will not conceal from you that I have frequented the shooting galleries, and that I am a first-class pistol-shot.”  84
  Camille bowed and went out.  85
  The next day, in a lucid interval, Mademoiselle Moriaz saw at the foot of her bed a medallion laid on a red hood. From that moment the physician announced an improvement in her symptoms.  86
 
 
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